Tragedy struck my hometown of San Bernardino last week. Several family members and friends have fallen victim to gun violence over the years, and I can only send out my condolences to the families, loved ones, and all others affected by the shooting massacre at the Inland Regional Center.
I never thought my losses would be relevant to my existence as a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara, until we experienced our own mass killings in Isla Vista last year. I found myself consoling students in my classes — much as I had been consoled — by offering a space for these students to express their grief. Over the past year and a half I have tried to make peace with the fact that regardless of what community my family and I choose to live in, we will more than likely have to deal with some type of gun violence.
On that Wednesday last week, while playing with my children, I couldn’t shake the thought of calling my mom. My mother and I speak regularly by phone, and now that my children are old enough to communicate, they will chat with their “Nana.” Before I had a chance to call, I began receiving text messages, emails, and social media alerts regarding a mass shooting in San Bernardino. My heart sank as I thought of my family and friends there. I immediately called my mother but couldn’t get through. I decided to try her back later.
Once reports began stating the gunmen were on the loose, my anxiety rose. I picked up the phone again and kept dialing until I finally reached my mom. She explained they were all okay but a little frightened and confused about what was going on, and why. She said all the local government buildings and schools had been placed under lockdown, including a school that one of my nephews attends. I later spoke with him, and he seemed to be fine. Most people on campus, he said, were following the news online or through social media.
I’m relieved that my family is safe, but my heart still aches. It aches because I can’t help but empathize with someone else who has lost a friend. It seems that my whole life I have been dealing with death. Before moving to San Bernardino, my family and I lived in a southern section of the Rampart District in Los Angeles. All I can remember about our neighborhood was the violence — associated with drugs, gangs, or police brutality. One of the main reasons our family moved out of L.A. was because of this violence. As a result, I was raised in San Bernardino from the time I was in second grade.
Although once popularly known as the site of the first McDonald’s restaurant and where Taco Bell’s founder opened his first fast-food stand, in addition to being home to the Little League Western Regional tournament, San Bernardino today struggles to move past its 2012 bankruptcy. Its residents struggle to find hope, motivation, and inspiration to help them get through the day.
Over the last six months, the Los Angeles Times has published three articles detailing some of these conditions. As someone who grew up in a working-class household, I understand the financial difficulties that many families face in San Bernardino today.
An important question still exists: “What is going to be done to help San Bernardino move forward?” San Bernardino needs help. San Bernardino needs other communities to open their hearts and offer their emotional and fiscal support. We need to rally behind San Bernardino, use this tragedy to bring some much-needed national attention to other social issues that have long plagued the residents of this once-thriving Inland Empire community. The residents need more investment toward creating, and sustaining, permanent employment opportunities for its residents. They also need better funding for their public schools and after-school programs. Children need to feel like their communities believe in them and their futures. Parents need to feel like they can provide for their children.
One way to show our youth that we believe in them is by investing in their futures. Many civic leaders (Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Paolo Freire, Carter G. Woodson, Cesar Chavez, Malala Yousafzai, to name a few) have long argued that literacy is the key to freedom. I believe that much like the Phoenix, San Bernardino will rise from its ashes to forge a “new beginning.” I believe it will do so because the people of San Bernardino have the heart and the resilience to do so. I send my love and warm wishes, from one S.B. to another S.B.
Teaching Assistant Mario Galicia Jr. is a PhD candidate in UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education. He was the 2015 Graduate Division Commencement student speaker and previously was the Graduate Division’s diversity and outreach peer advisor.